The weather can’t be that bad two years in a row…but the big names might just be counting on it. 

Peak2Peak is a course where the smallest mistakes decide the race, and when the conditions are horrendous, bobbles are amplified. This Saturday’s race at Crystal Mountain Resort recalls some of the best riders in the Midwest for the annual test in the metropolis of Thompsonville, but it also looks to have brought back some unwelcome weather. After last year’s dreadful cold and rain shortened the elite and expert races by a lap, no one thought it could happen again. But with 60% chance of rain, riders are already preparing for the worst.

The rider who wins, of course, is probably sitting at home with an eager grin. To win in the rain and mud, you have to simply love it. No one is impervious to cold, rain, wind and the lot, but being mentally positive can make all the difference. Riders like Jorden Wakeley, Cole House, Alex Vanias, Mike Simonson, Jason Lowetz and the rest have all proven themselves mud-ready, and others will be hoping to prove themselves capable as well.

Last year, House won his second P2P as the field nearly froze and almost everyone rode without brakes. This time, he’ll be flanked by Simonson and Wakeley against the rest of the men. BISSELL will field two riders that see this as a local race. Vanias and Derek Graham will be in contention, and if it comes to tactics, may be the more decisive duo. Einstein Racing comes in with Jason Lowetz and Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy. Lowetz is still feeling the effects of a 1,500 mile bicycle ride, while Kennedy has spent the past few months with no racing. Still, both are gutsy riders that should influence the race late.

The women again enter with two big hitters. While Mackenzie Woodring won a beautiful, muddy, dramatic race in 2012, it’s hard not to think of  Sue Stephens as an co-favorite of sorts, as she’s won this race twice. Woodring has been on the podium-often the top step- on the cyclocross circuit of late, while Stephens’ last big showing was to put her foot to the throat of everyone at Battle at the Burg. It’s a rematch, but also a forecast for who should be the top woman from the Midwest heading into the Iceman.

Lauri Brockmiller returns to racing along with Bridgit Widrig, and the Hagerty duo will not only look to shake up the podium but put the Top Banana Competition to rest between them as well. They’ve traded the lead since May, and the Competition should nearly be decided on the newly altered course.

A few minor changes have added up to a longer course by nearly three miles from previous editions. Now roughly 14 miles, the course has a new section of dirt road to help reduce logjams in the bigger Expert and Sport categories. That means the Elite race should be more compact as it hits the new ascent that always decides the race. Rather than the traditional Crystal Climb, the new course brings riders up three different ‘steps’ to the top of the mountain. While the individual climbs are shorter, the total ascent is greater than past editions. Instead of a three minute climb, riders hit three different slopes, two of which that hit gradients of over 16%. Those are short but selective, though the longer climb is nearly a half mile and is the most sustained grade of the race.  The newly christened Plateau de Couers Brises is nearly as big as last year’s climb, but comes on the heels of the aforementioned ascents. It is 178 feet of vertical at an average of 8.1% over .4 miles. That average gradient includes a veritable wall at its base of 22% before leveling out over the final few hundred feet. If you can’t climb, you won’t have a shot at this one.

The old adage of “Victorious until proven secondary” will come into play here. Look for a Woodring-Stephens-Brockmiller podium in the Women’s race, though there’s a careful eye saved for an improving Erin Vicary. The Men’s race is a complete toss-up, but until someone beats him, Cole House is the favorite and he rides with two great teammates. Watch for House, followed by Vanias, Wakeley and maybe a dark house like Shawn Davison to sneak onto the third step.